IT’S only January, it was only the Walsh Cup, both sides were seriously understrength (Kilkenny especially so) and yet the three-point win for Offaly on Sunday last in Tullamore over Kilkenny was of massive significance to the home side.
In beating Tipperary in the All-Ireland final last September, the Cats completed a fabulous four-in-a-row, a feat never before achieved in senior hurling (Cork lost to Tipperary in the postponed 1941 Munster final in their four-in-a-row run in the early 40’s).
This year then sees the drive-for-five. This was Kilkenny’s first competitive outing of the season; they were only a couple of weeks back from their team holiday, had been back in training for only a week, so that, along with being understrength they were undercooked, and very much so.
And still, given how competitive they are under their most competitive of managers Brian Cody, given also that all those newcomers who played on Sunday would have been bursting a gut to impress, they were not going to go down without a fight. They didn’t either, and it took a late charge from Offaly to secure victory.
Central to that final effort, after his move from midfield to centre-forward, was long-serving Ger Oakley, and while the Offaly captain wasn’t getting carried away with the win, neither was he for glossing over it, especially given it was Offaly’s first competitive win over Kilkenny since the 1998 All-Ireland final, when Ger was a panellist.
“It’s only a Walsh Cup game in January so you can’t read too much into it but on your home patch it’s a good win. You’ve seen Kilkenny the last 10-odd years, they approach these competitions and want to win them all. Games like this, Offaly have lost over the years whether it’s league, championship or Walsh Cup. You’re there for the last 10, 15 minutes and then you blow a lead. Lads stood up today and came away with three or four good points near the end and pulled the game out of the fire.”
It was that late stand, in particular, that impressed Ger. It wasn’t that it was against Kilkenny – he understands fully that the Cats will be a much different proposition as the year progresses. But this was old-style Offaly, digging deep when it mattered most.
“We have a tendency to die in the last 10, 15 minutes – against Waterford in the championship a couple of years ago, against Cork in the championship last year – so if Offaly can get that out of their game they’ll be a good, competitive team, and you can build from that. It’s time to push on.
“I’ve been hearing for the past six or seven years that ‘we’re in transition, young team, this and that’ – it’s time to push on. Offaly should be competing at a higher level. They have the hurlers, have the ability to compete at a higher level. It’s a mental block but in the last couple of years we played them in Leinster semi-finals and you’d hold them for 50 minutes but end up getting beaten by 15 odd points.
“That’s no good for young lads – it’s time Offaly stood up and were counted. We’re good enough to compete at a higher level than we’re at.”
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